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Published: Sun, May 22, 2016
Research | By Jennifer Evans

How to see Mars in Opposition Tonight


The red planet Mars looms closer to Earth this month than it has in 11 years.

The resulting image - shown in natural color - reveals details as small as 20 miles across.

Because of Mars' eccentric orbit, it will still be getting closer to Earth on opposition night, and won't reach its minimum distance (and largest size) until nearly a week later, on May 30 at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

During the Mars opposition, early Sunday, Mars and the sun will be on opposite sides of Earth.

Those in the know call this weekend's special the "Mars close approach" when there will be the shortest distance between Mars and Earth and in a double whammy you will also be treated to the "Mars opposition".

According to European Space Agency officials, this Mars opposition is also a cosmic event when the Red Planet is at its nearest point to Earth during its orbit, which would mean that Mars is also observed to be bigger and brighter in the sky than normal.

Opposition occurs as Earth's orbit catches up to Mars' orbit, with the Sun and Mars on opposite sides of the Earth.

"Because Mars is directly opposite the sun (in relation to Earth) during opposition, Mars rises as the sun sets, and sets as the sun rises".

The Hubble Space Telescope and is ready to take pictures. NASA officials said Hubble could operate at least until 2020 or perhaps even longer.

All through the night, Mars will be discernible and more resplendent. As Mars closes in on Earth, space watchers will be keeping an eye on the Red Planet.

This weekend the full moon is parked pretty close to Mars.

"Directly overhead is usually a great time to see it because you're looking through less atmosphere", Baer explained. It was later discovered that Syritis Major Planitia is actually an ancient inactive shield volcano. In the Hubble footage, the Syrtis Major is covered by clouds.

The orange area in the centre of the image is Arabia Terra, a vast upland region. This place is kept by Jupiter, in the southwestern sky, who is in fact much farther than Mars. However, this year, Mars is close to its equinox, so both polar caps are at their smallest, and thus hard to see. It's heavily eroded and densely cratered landscape suggests that it could be one of the oldest features on the planet. About 1,800 kilometres across and eight kilometres deep, it was formed about 3.5 billion years ago by an asteroid impact.

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